- - Monday, April 23, 2018

“Stuck in the Middle with You,” was a catchy bit of FM ear candy in the 1970s, but there’s nothing sweet about what the Nationals are stuck with in the middle of their pitching rotation these days.

Getting from their All-Star-level starters to the team’s more-than-solid closer has become a daily dash across a minefield for the Nationals, currently in the midst of West Coast road trip. 

In games through Sunday, the Nationals’ pitching staff had an ERA of 3.48 in the first six innings — eighth out of 15 teams in the National League. But from the seventh inning and on, that number balloons to 5.37, next to last in the majors.

More specifically, the Nationals’ ERA in the sixth inning through Sunday was 4.91 (eighth out of 15), the seventh was 4.50 (10th), the eighth was 7.77 (last) and the ninth was 3.18 (ninth).

Overall the Nationals’ relievers had an ERA of 5.78 going into Monday’s game at San Francisco, the worst mark in the league. The Washington bullpen had allowed 11 homers in only 67 innings. Only the Marlins relievers were worse, having yielded 14 longballs.



The Nationals were winning 3-0 going into the last of the sixth Sunday night in Los Angeles and wound up losing 4-3 to the Dodgers, dropping two of three games in the series and falling to 10-12 overall.

Washington was without veteran reliever Ryan Madson (6.97), who was used in all three games of the previous series against the Mets.

“We just wanted to give him some rest,” manager Dave Martinez told reporters after Sunday’s game. “He’s pitched more … I try to keep these guys from getting a game behind, but our games have been so close that it’s been tough.”

Cleary, the Nationals are struggling with the bridge between the starting pitchers and closer Sean Doolittle, the University of Virginia product who had a solid 2.70 ERA with four saves through Sunday.

Doolittle and Madson were acquired from the Oakland A’s in a deal last July. That helped solidify the bullpen down the stretch.

“To go from Oakland to Washington was a big jump in a lot of areas,” Madson said. “It felt like a huge promotion for me. I felt like I was being recognized for my work. I felt wanted and put to use.”

But this season, he has struggled at times and so has veteran Brandon Kintzler, who normally pitches the seventh but had an ERA of 5.73 through Sunday.

Injuries and ineffectiveness have led to callups as the Nationals summoned a reliever three days in a row from Triple-A Syracuse: Carlos Torres on Friday, Trevor Gott on Saturday and Austin L. Adams on Sunday.

Adams, though, was called up to replace a position player. Third baseman Anthony Rendon (toe) went on the disabled list Sunday and has not played since April 13. Torres, a big league veteran, took the spot of injured lefty reliever Matt Grace (left groin strain).

And while the bullpen has struggled, the Nationals’ lineup has also been without starting second baseman Daniel Murphy and left fielder Adam Eaton.

Murphy has not played this season after having knee surgery in October. He has been working out in West Palm Beach, Florida, in hopes of joining the Nationals soon. Eaton went on the disabled list April 11 with a bruised knee.

Their absence has put added pressure on pitchers, and the Nationals only had one contest decided by more than four runs in a 15-game stretch through Sunday.

Right-handed starter Jeremy Hellickson took a shutout into the sixth inning Sunday. But he was charged with three runs in the inning as lefty reliever Sammy Solis gave up a hit to allow the Dodgers to tie the game.

Trevor Gott got the last two outs of the sixth, but allowed the eventual winning run to score in the seventh.

“You just try to play matchups,” Martinez said. “Solis, he can get us out of that inning, and then we can do something else. On the flip side, Gott came in and did unbelievable. He really did.”

The Nationals play Tuesday night in San Francisco against the Giants. The probable starting pitcher for Washington will be right-hander Tanner Roark (1-1, 3.24), who is expected to face San Francisco Giants left-hander Ty Blach (1-3, 4.10).

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